Auburn, Ala.—Growing up in the South, many young boys grown up dreaming of playing for the Atlanta Braves. Last summer Auburn freshman Sam Gillikin had just that opportunity when he was drafted by the Braves in the 33rd round of the 2012 Amateur Baseball Draft.
Deciding another dream was more important to him, the 6-2, 197 outfielder spurned the Braves and stuck with the Auburn Tigers. Now he’s on the verge of making his ultimate dream a reality as he’s expected to be the starting right fielder for Coach John Pawlowski when Auburn opens the season against Maine on Friday at 3 p.m. at Plainsman Park.
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” Gillikin says. “It’s something I have been dreaming about since I was a little kid coming here and watching the games. I know I’m really excited and the whole team is excited. We’re just ready to get things rolling.
“I remember days when me and my dad would come here after making a road trip from Birmingham,” he adds. “It’s just something special for me and my whole family. I’m just real excited about it. It’s a dream come true.”
A talented baseball and football player for the Hoover Bucs in high school, Gillikin played quarterback before an injury cut short his senior season in football. Determined to finish out his high school career on a high note, he had a monster final year in baseball for Coach Rick Davis.
The Hoover Area Player of the Year and a Baseball America Second Team All-American, Gillikin hit .453 with six home runs, 16 doubles and 36 RBI as a senior for the Bucs. A speedster on the base paths as well, he added 25 stolen bases.
Enrolling at Auburn for the fall semester, Gillikin was looking forward to getting a jump start on his career until an injury sidelined him for much of the practice time with the Tigers. Forced to sit and watch while his teammates got in work, he says it was definitely a learning experience for him because it taught him patience.
“It was hard,” Gillikin says. “I just had to make sure I got in there and got my rehab done and did the right things on and off the field. It was definitely tough, but I just had to keep the right mindset and get ready for the spring so I could be ready to go.”
Cleared to return this spring, Gillikin hasn’t wasted any time getting his game rounded back into shape. Locked in a battle for playing time in right field, he says that while rusty to start with he is getting more and more comfortable with every passing day.
“The first couple of days of scrimmaging I was a little uncomfortable in the box,” Gillikin says. “It had been since last April since I had gotten an at-bat. The more I have been in there the more comfortable I have been. The hits started coming and I started feeling a lot better about my game.”
Just like any freshman making a move to the big-time, Gillikin says it hasn’t come without its share of problems. The biggest of those has been adjusting to right field. A center fielder for much of his life, the lifelong Auburn fan says that it’s just part of the learning process for him as a freshman and he’s excited to meet the challenge head on.
“It has definitely been the velocity from the pitchers,” Gillikin says. “Defensively it has been the little things and trying to make plays down the line. I’m trying to adjust from center field to right field so that has been a lot different. In center field everything is straight up and it’s a pretty easy read. In right field you have to figure out if the ball is tailing. I’m trying to get used to it.”
Game times for the weekend series against Maine are set for 3 p.m. on Friday, a noon doubleheader on Saturday, and 11 a.m. on Sunday.
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